New year, same newsletter⏱

Lap 96: Sponsored by V.O2

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San Silvestre Vallecana🇪🇸

I’m not a big New Year’s Eve party guy. This year at 11:45pm my wife and I made the joint decision that midnight wasn’t worth waiting up for. (We had to rest up for a morning flight that wound up involving our one-year-old projectile vomiting on us during a turbulent landing.)

Suffice to say, starting the year off with a road race instead sounds pretty nice right about now, and is something I’ll likely be lobbying for in the future.

Cue: the San Silvestre, which was first run in São Paolo, Brazil, in 1925 to celebrate Saint Sylvester's Day and sell newspapers. It’s since been won by such prominent names as Frank Shorter, Paul Tergat, and Brigid Kosgei. This year’s 15k race winners were Uganda’s Andrew Kwemoi and Kenya’s Catherine Reline. How cool would it be to attend the 100th running? Someone sign me up! (And convince my wife to spend the holidays in Brazil rather than her native Ireland.)

But if history is less your thing, and you’d rather spend December 31st surrounded by insanely fast 10k runners, how about the San Silvestre in Madrid? Unlike most New Year’s parties with a $175 ticket and a guarantee you’ll catch Covid, anything involving Joshua Cheptegei rarely disappoints.

His main competition came in the form of a local elite who goes by the name of Mohamed Katir. Despite having not raced since the World Championships, Cheptegei continued to push the pace after an initial 5k of 13:16. He broke away to win by ten seconds in 27:09 — the second-fastest time in the event’s history, only behind Jacob Kiplimo.

After the race, Cheptegei confirmed that he’d be running World XC to defend his title and that he’d be moving up to the marathon following the Paris Olympics.

Uganda’s great day continued in the women’s race, as Prisca Chesang’s W made it a double victory. Take note of that name right now because all signs are pointing towards a huge 2023 for the 19-year-old. With a 5000m best of 15:16, Chesang’s last race was a third-place finish at the U20 World Championships. And while 30:19 for 10k is objectively good no matter how it’s done, the progression and who she beat to do it has me buying her stock futures. Francine Niyonsaba was 39 seconds back and the world record holder in the steeplechase, Beatrice Chepkoech, was 47 seconds behind.

Now tell me that’s not a more enjoyable evening than relieving oneself using plastic water bottles in Times Square!

Cursa dels Nassos 5k 🇪🇸

I was hoping that there would be a Catalan flag emoji so I could rightfully distinguish the New Year’s Barcelona race from the New Year’s Madrid race. But alas…

At the Cursa dels Nassos 5k, Ejgayehu Taye returned to try and one-up her male-paced world record 5k of 14:19 from last year. Unfortunately, her 14:21 came up just short of that goal, after a blazing 7:04 first half left her all alone with a lot of running left.

This is a good reminder to proceed with caution before returning to the scene of the crime. After hitting one out of the park at a meet or workout, for your confidence’s sake it’s sometimes good to avoid immediately trying to one-up yourself there. But in this case, last year Taye went on to medal at Indoor Worlds and run 14:12 at Pre, so maybe it’s enough for her to know that she’s in about the same form one year later.

The most interesting result came from second and third place as the script got flipped between Konstanze Klosterhalfen and Karoline Grøvdal. After being out-kicked on the Italian slop, Koko got her revenge and said, ‘you might beat me by four seconds in cross country, but I’ll beat you by 14 in this random road race.’

On the men’s side, this race was built-up big time for Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Race organizers went so far as to create a specific ‘Jakob’ highlight on their official Instagram page. But the kid got sick beforehand which opened up a special opportunity for Adisu Girma to win his first-ever 5k in 13:25.

The Hakone Ekiden 🇯🇵

Can we please get one of our younger readers to do a study abroad program at Komazawa University to get us some insider info as to how they do it? The school was founded in 1592, which predates Harvard, so it must be good.

At the 99th running of the epic Hakone Ekiden, the ten-man teams race 217.1 kilometers from Ōtemachi to Hakone and back. Komazawa ran the third fastest time ever, 10:47:11, to win by one minute and forty-two seconds. The squad, which has not won the event since 2008, pulled off the triple crown (Izumo and Nationals being the other two) to become only the fifth school to do so.

They accomplished this despite only having one man win his leg — that’s because they’re deep. Like, DEEP! Komazawar’s ten-man average is 13:38/28:24/1:02:14 and they don’t even have the Boston University track.

While I don’t expect the majority of readers to follow Japanese running too closely, these are the takeaways any American running fan should be aware of: last year 600,000 people watched the race in person, and in 2020 there were 65 million TV viewers. It would seem my potential newsletter audience could be much bigger if I spoke better (re: any) Japanese.

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Tasmanian Handicap Races 🇦🇺

When I found what was billed as a live stream for the first Tas Carnival event in Devonport, Australia, it felt like I may have accidentally clicked on the wrong page – there was a cycling race taking place on an outdoor velodrome. Then two days later in Burnie, a different city on the island of Tasmania, I opened the same link, except now there were men literally chopping wood.

The chaos of this event is so stereotypically Australian in the best way possible. It’s a celebration of competition and community that extends the opportunity to win to all athletes, regardless of ability level. This sort of thing would only be possible in a place with universal healthcare and a pervasive devil-may-care, endless summer attitude!

For the mile races, athletes are handicapped based on their expected finish times, which means that the country’s 1500m and mile record holders, Stewart McSweyn and Ollie Hoare, respectively, were progressively taxed for being so talented. Blasphemous!

Despite being two of the best runners in the country’s history they haven’t actually had many head-to-head battles and this was a great way to kickstart the rivalry. In the first round, Ollie won narrowly in 4:03, but both were beaten to the line by a gentleman who received a 140m head start. They swung wide into lane two and hawked down many bodies coming off the final bend, but it wasn’t enough.

In the second race, Stewy got payback with a more dominant five-second victory in 4:04, but in this round, five slightly-less elite athletes finished ahead. I hope 18-year-old steeplechaser Abbie Butler is rubbing it in both of their faces that SHE is the Burnie Mile champion.

The races taking place on a grass oval are nothing but a minor detail here, but if it’s good enough for Roger Federer then it should be good enough for these blokes.

World Cross Country Mixed Gender Relay 🤝

If the idea of running wacky races in Australia has piqued your interest and you were also one of the best 1500 to 3000m runners in the United States last year then boy do I have a proposition for you! USATF has published the selection criteria for the 4x2k mixed-gender relay at the World Cross Country Championships on February 18th in Bathurst.

The gist of it is that in the next two weeks athletes have to email in, expressing their interest and those with the highest single race point value on the World Athletics scoring table will be chosen. A pretty simple and straightforward system, but the question is how far down the list will it go?

In theory, an athlete could still run the Millrose Games on the 11th and hop on the flight to go, but it’s undoubtedly a big commitment. The mixed relay only started in 2017 and in the two iterations, the United States finished in 6th and 4th. Hopefully, someone from USATF is lobbying for the top athletes to participate because it’s a rare day that we get any medals at this race with the last one being silver in the men’s team from 2013. Let’s not make the same mistake as we do on the track and not commit to winning winnable mixed-gender relays.

A few years ago I would have jumped at this opportunity. One of the most fun events I ever did in my career was going to Edinburgh to run the 4x1k mixed-gender relay. There’s no better feeling than shaking out with a bunch of guys who have to race eight times the distance as you do the next day.

Athletes and coaches spend so much time building their season around one event at the very end of a season that sometimes we lose the forest through the trees. If you’re training to represent your country at the World Championships, well… here ya go!

The Wild Duck closes 🐥

The iconic Eugene post-track meet haunt the Wild Duck Cafe is closing its doors and pouring out the last of its beers. And I am sure that one bartender will be furious when any regulars offer over a wooden token rather than an Amex when settling up.

I’ve licked my wounds after many races at this watering hole. It was one spot near Hayward where you could always walk in and see a hundred familiar faces. Athletes would head straight to the bar still wearing their uniforms for an encore of cheers and subsequent “USA, USA” chants.

While the closure of any small business is a tragedy, comparisons to Coogan’s don’t seem quite appropriate. Maybe it’s my New York bias speaking, but according to locals, the Duck wasn’t quite the year-round institution for running fans that it is during the US Champs or Olympic Trials .

Either way, as far as business models go, being a track-themed bar maybe isn’t the best one – it only takes most runners a couple of beers before making the drunk jog home.

Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad Retires 🇫🇷

Track and field’s bad boy is retiring. The European record holder in the steeplechase (8:00.09), Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, has announced his retirement at the age of 37 years old. With three Olympic medals and six* European championships, he was quite the runner, but an even better entertainer. Lots of people win races, however, only one man has been disqualified for eating his jersey in celebration.

“Where are all the rockstar runners?” that old Prefontaine poster still hanging in your childhood bedroom, might ask. Well, one was in France. And mascots can sleep well at night knowing he’s done.

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • Ce’Aira Brown has announced her retirement from professional running. While running for the New Jersey - New York Track Club, the former Hampton All-American ran 1:58.01 and qualified for the 2019 World Championship 800m final. Ce may have been the most competitive teammate I’ve ever had – she wouldn’t even let me win a stride!

  • The Detroit Free Press Marathon has updated its anti-doping policy following a controversial winner in the 2022 race. The big change is that those who are represented by coaches or agents who have had two athletes banned in the previous four years will not be eligible. That’s significantly stricter than most races out there and is a good reminder to athletes to be careful who they are associated with!

  • Sha’Carri Richardson has started a YouTube channel and in her first 48-minute vlog, shared a behind-the-scenes look at her life and answered fan questions.

  • Andre De Grasse and his partner Nia Ali will no longer be coached by Rana Reider and have moved to Orlando to work under John Coghlan who most notably guided Jasmine Camacho-Quinn to Olympic gold.

  • Rachel Schneider and her husband Mike Smith announced that they are expecting a child in April. I think the entire running community is feeling an overwhelming sense of happiness for the couple after a challenging 2022.

  • Kellyn Taylor gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Keagan and in the same week somehow suited up for a 5-mile run!

  • Uganda’s Oscar Chelimo (28:14) and Ethiopia’s Dawit Seyaum (15:33) won the Boclassic in Bolzano, Italy. If you’re thinking those times are a bit slow then know that 10k and 5k courses are contested on a 1.25k loop made up of very spectator friendly cobblestone streets. Americans would never!

  • The Houston Half Marathon fields have come out and they’re loaded – Sisson, Dibaba, Simpson, Scott, Huddle, Cheserek, Mantz, Kitata, Kiptoo, and more. Stay tuned for January 15th!

  • Less than a month after making her marathon debut in Valencia, Letesenbet Gidey won the Ethiopian XC Trials at Jan Meda in Sululta. And the Diamond League 5000m champion Berihu Aregawi won the men’s race. It should be no surprise that both teams are incredibly deep. The US will select its team on January 21st in Richmond.

  • USATF has published the qualifying standards for the Indoor Championships that will take place in Albuquerque from February 16-18.

Thank you so much to VO.2 for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! Treat yourself to some technology and data to help motivate and guide you to big goals in 2023. And if you liked this newsletter then please 1) tell me and 2) tell other people.